Monday, April 11, 2016

La Olla by Evelina Fernández

Sal Lopez - Photo: Grettel Cortes

By Joe Straw

He said the seats had my name on them and that they would be pre-seating me.  

Well, I went in – turned a few circles, spied a few names, mostly theatrical celebrities on this opening night – then I got to the stage.  When I turned around I noticed three or four hundred seats, all with names on them.

Rather than reading “War and Peace” I asked the usher, “Where are my seats?”

“Maybe you can sit with that lonely man over there – the one with the press packet.”

He looked none too happy, alone.

I trudged over to his area, far stage left, looked at the stage, and I noticed a huge wall separating me from viewing most of stage right. 

Watching, from this vantage point, could be problematic. If I were going to make a move it would have to be now.

Suddenly, patrons blocked me in, moments passed, and by this time the other seats were being filled. Still, I was not resigned to stay in my seat.  Standing, I tried to figure out if any remaining white piece of paper – that I couldn’t read – had my name on it.  

But, as the lights dimmed, I realized, I had great seats, as is every seat in the house – Narrator

Yee Eun Nam - Set Designer
The wall in the middle of the set was a huge symbolic vertical sacrificial stone that served a purpose.  Ancient smoke encircled the ruins and a pleasant odor drift out into the theatre. I was glad to see the same stonewall, in question, was not a permanent fixture. All of this was beautifully designed by Set & Projection Designer Yee Eun Nam.

The Latino Theater Company present the World Premiere of La Olla written by Evelina Fernández and directed by José Luis Valenzuela, adapted from the Roman Comedy The Pot by Plautus through April 24, 2016 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center

La Olla is a very funny comedy with solid performance by a remarkable cast, some more remarkable than others. This is all said in jest, as the whole show is a solid outing for the Latino Theater Company and almost something for the whole adult family.

One of the interesting things about José Luis Valenzuela’s direction is the manner in which he introduces the characters, at first it is a slow dance, measured on and off stage, each in a specific character, moving, watching each other, some garbed in spy coats - ala Spy vs. Spy – all involved with their specific trait. The actors leave the stage, move upstage (backstage at La Olla) and get undress, appearing almost naked in unitards, changing from one costume into another.  The impression, in a myriad of ideas, is that the characters will be frolicking in various roles. And then, during the course of the play, Valenzuela has them coming in and out like the Marx Brothers, or The Three Stooges, through every door, beyond the walls, in and out, in a tumultuous display of non-stop hilarity.  

La Olla means pot, or the pot. La Olla is an adaptation from Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus’ Aulularia. 

(Unbeknownst to Cesar and his knife carrying lot, the Romans were very funny, yes they were.)

La Olla is also a nightclub for which Sobersides (Gástulo Guerra) is the master of ceremonies.  Sobersides is a mystical person of sorts who lets us in on the characters in the show, their history, and unimpressive talent, and he also introduces the cabaret attendees, to the performing acts.

One such act is La Diva (Esperanza America) a ne’er-do-well who is at the end of her professional career.  Finishing her career now at this once promising but now rundown 1950’s cabaret club, La Olla.

One night, after her performance, La Diva is rolling around in a fit, in her large frame, on the floor. La Diva is ready to be institutionalized.  She is replaced by Phaedria (also Esperanza America) who steps in and, at first, is not sounding good but then warms up to the audience and suddenly becomes the up and coming star.

While this is going on three nefarious men Eel (Sam Glozari), Mack (Fidel Gomez), and Chon (Xavi Moreno) have robbed someone and are running from the authorities.  They hop into the La Olla nightclub and stash the money in one pot, in a dressing room filled with the many pots.

Eulclio (Sal Lopez) discovers the money and hides it, telling his wife Staphyla (Evelina Fernández) not to let anyone in to their dressing room where the money resides. Of course, he doesn’t tell her why.

“You asshole.” - Staphyla

Megadorus (Geoffrey Rivas), the sexually ambiguous nightclub owner, sees the value of the up and coming star, Phaedria, and wants to marry her. A serious discussion with his confidant, sister, or lover Eunomia (Xavi Moreno) confirms the choice of marriage.

But Phaedria has been secretly hiding her pregnancy and has various reasons why she doesn’t want to be with Megadorus. First, she is in love with Lyconides (Sam Golzari), the father of her child, and second, Megadorus is twice her age, gay, and is badly attired. And, as a side note, Megadorus is Lyconides’ Uncle.   

There’s another problem: the not-so-smart Eulclio, with gold carefully stashed away, has promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to Megadorus.  Megadorus has money.  Why should Eulclio spend his pot of gold for his daughter’s marriage?

Truth be told, Eulclio gets a little wacky about the money, imagining that others are trying to steal his newfound money. One thing’s for sure, he is not giving it back.

Esperanza America and Sam Golzari - Photo: Grettel Cortes

Esperanza America is outstanding, and totally unrecognizable, as La Diva (in wonderful costumes by Naila Aladdin-Sanders). America is extremely funny as Phaedria a ne’er-do-well who has done well at least once.  Gangly, pregnant, and walking nimbly on two crooked feet Phaedria becomes the beautiful diva on the strength of her voice. America is wonderful in characters and these roles are one performance not to miss.

Evelina Fernández plays Staphyla and actor, wife and nightclub performer who is fed up with everyone and this life. She plays through the necessities of life on stage with a forgotten cigarette between her lips as she performs by rote.  One has seen this character before but it never gets tiring.

Sam Golzari is also impressive as Lyconides, Sam and Eel. Golzari has a wonderful cabaret voice and has a very funny presence on stage. The sight gag on stage for one of the last scenes plays to perfection.

Fidel Gomez is fine as St. Genesius, Strobilus and Mack. One is not really sure about the accent that Gomez uses as Mack, or the region for which the voice serves a purpose in the play.  It gave him another character, vocally, tough guy, but how does this work in the context of the play?  That aside, Gomez is very funny.

Cástulo Guerra - Photo: Grettel Cortes

Cástulo Guerra is extremely impressive as Sobersides.  His choices were clear, his motives defined, and the emotional life was well beyond remarkable. This is one actor that productions should find a space for. Wow!  Excellent work! Don’t miss his performance!

Sal Lopez is Euclio and brings forth another funny performance. Eculio is a man, husband, and father who is none too bright, but smart enough to know that he is in a lot of trouble. (But, seriously, we’ve got to do something about the sweeping up on stage.  Sweep until you finish, have a dustpan, sweep it under the rug, offstage into the audience, and/or dispose the waste, in character of course, but just, finish.) Lopez does well with eyes scrunched barking his way to reach his objective.  His movements are precise and the gold is real.

Xavi Moreno is an incredible actor.  His characters are well defined, and very peculiar in an astonishing and very interesting way. His physical manner on stage for each character is flawless and this is also a performance not to miss.  He is seen as Eunomia, Hank, and Chon.

Geoffrey Rivas is splendid as Megadorus (sounds like a dinosaur), a gay man who convinces himself the show would be better off if he married to the up and coming star.  Rivas performance reminds one of La Cage aux Folles and is very funny and charming in many ways.  

Evelina Fernández’s work as the writer gets better with each new play. The dialogue is snappy, the situations are flamboyant, and underneath it all has a mystical quality, a time in space focused and personified.  You can’t really write this off as an adaptation: Aulularia, is a work lost which has not been completely found – those funny Romans and their storage capabilities. This is Fernández at her finest.   

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Urbanie Lucero – Choreographer & Movement Coordinator
Pablo Santiago – Lights & Projection Design
John Zalewski – Sound Design – The sound elements were extremely impressive and add another layer to the show.  One is always fascinated by Zalewski’s work and the manner in which the work progresses the show.  
Naila Aladdin-Sanders – Costume Design – While the time frame is ambigious, the costumes kept the players rooted in the same period.  Aladdin-Sanders’ work provides just one more layer to the overall show.
Camille Villanueva – Puppet Design – Loved the puppets!
Rosino Serrano – Musical Director – They are in a cabaret and the music worked wonderfully.
Lauren Hadnot – Assistant Stage Manager
Henry “Heno” Fernandez – Stage Manager

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone who loves Buster Keaton!
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